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Thursday, 8 November 2012

The View from the Shard

I’ve had a sneak preview of what's set to become London’s “top” tourist attraction – the viewing gallery of the Shard, at just over 310 m the tallest building in western Europe. (Looking at this photo taken last month from Parliament Hill in north London I can hardly believe I have now been right up to the pinnacle.)

Although still a construction site, as you can see, the Shard dominates the capital's skyline, towering over London Bridge station on the south bank of the Thames, its 11,000 glass panels soaring up to reflect sky, clouds and sometimes sun.

When we arrived, workmen were fitting the flooring in the huge entrance hall, but round the corner, lifts were waiting to whisk us up to the 68th floor in a little over a minute. My ears had barely popped before we were in the gallery, looking out over the capital.

That's the moment it hits you:  the only other way to get such a view would be from the air.

The gallery itself is the height of three storeys, the floor to ceiling windows giving a stunning 360’ view. On a clear day you could see up to 40 miles across London. On a November afternoon the view was slightly more limited, but familiar landmarks were clearly visible – the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Canary Wharf to the east (above), St Paul’s, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and the Wembley arch to the west, while snaking through the panorama like a ribbon, the Thames, its barges and river boats like miniature toys (below). 

A few decades back the BT Tower (189m) and Canary Wharf (235m) briefly provided high-level views of the capital before being closed to the public. Now you look down on them, and on the many cranes and construction projects dotting the city. Between them, the spires of Wren and Hawksmoor churches are still just visible. The Shard itself casts a long shadow over the City (below).

Digital telescopes provide closer views and have touch screens with multi-language information about landmarks. Visitors will also be able to climb stairs to level 72, the highest public point, open to the elements (not accessible during the preview.)
The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano and owned jointly by the State of Qatar and the Sellar Property Group. is described as the UK’s first vertical city. It will have shops, offices, restaurants, a 200-room hotel and on floors 53 – 65, ten multi-million pound residences. Cleaning the exterior is a full-time job, and not for the faint-hearted (left).

The viewing gallery opens to the public on Feb 1, 2013. A visit won’t be cheap – just under £25 if you book in advance, or almost £30 if you turn up on the day. Being so high up means it may occasionally be wreathed in clouds, but then visitors will be offered a return visit. Admission will also include a multi-media display about the history of London and the Shard itself. Booking has already opened, and it looks as if it will be THE place to be next Valentine’s Day.

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